Through Writing, Alumna Explores the Value of Life After Loss
Published: Friday, January 24, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 24, 2014 13:01
Based in New York City, Mélanie Berliet (COL ’03) is a Georgetown alumna who goes above and beyond for her writing career. For Berliet, the road after graduation was far from easy, and her inspiring approach to life was motivated by the premature death of her older sister. Berliet has recently written an e-single about this tragedy that is scheduled to be released at the end of this month.
What did you study while you were at Georgetown, and what were you planning to do after graduation?
I was a major in political economy. It was perfect for me because I was enjoying my government and economy classes about equally when it came time to declare my major. I had no idea what I wanted to do initially so I kind of jumped on the Wall Street internship bandwagon. Something about Wall Street appealed to me, the idea of just working hard and making a lot of money. I worked on Wall Street as a bond trader for three years after college, but that didn’t make me happy, so I quit.
How did you get into writing?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I quit Wall Street, but I knew that I couldn’t figure it out working crazy 12 hour days. I took the summer off to figure it out, and I ended up spending most of my time just reading and writing. For the first time in a very long time, I could read whatever I wanted and that was so exciting to me. I thought, “If I can make a living doing this, I can have a chance at happiness.” You have to start writing for free so I just found outlets that accepted random submissions and wrote and wrote and pitched and pitched. It’s a long process. In 2007, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency published a humor piece I had written. Seeing my byline for the first time meant so much to me and really cemented that writing was the right thing for me. Another turning point, which happened about a year later, was when I was published by Vanity Fair. That happened because of a relationship I had built with another Vanity Fair writer. We emailed back and forth, and when I was ready with a piece to publish in Vanity Fair, he helped make it happen.
How does Wall Street compare to the media world in NYC?
I’ve worked equally as hard in the media world as I did on Wall Street, but the work is more gratifying from an intellectual standpoint. The industries are equally cutthroat but in very different ways. There are different personalities in each world. On Wall Street, people work with huge amounts of money and that’s what matters. Media people are happier making less money. They know you won’t become a billionaire being a writer, but that’s OK.
Do you have any advice for students who want to seriously pursue writing after graduation?
In addition to just being prepared to write for free for a while, develop a thick skin. Writing is a wonderful thing but it requires the ability to take rejection. What an editor wants at any publication is pretty arbitrary. Don’t take it personally and keep pitching. Some of my best stories were rejected 10 times before they were published. It’s all part of the process.
How would you describe your writing style?
While I enjoyed humor writing, I soon realized that it wasn’t necessarily my strength, so I started searching for another journalistic niche. It was in 2008, when I kept hearing about the naked body sushi modeling trend, that it occurred to me that no one had written about the concept from the sushi model’s perspective — and that I could thus create a new story angle regarding an otherwise tired subject by becoming the human platter for a night and writing about the experience from the first person. From that point forth, I focused on experience-based “immersive” journalism. I didn’t give two s- - - - about what anyone might think, mostly because, I now realize, I was getting an up close lesson in how short and fragile life is thanks to my ailing older sister. Doing something made it easier to write about. I formed this odd sort of career because I stopped caring about what others might think. [My sister] was teaching me through dying, how to live.
What is Surviving In Spirit: A Memoir about Sisterhood and Addiction about?
Essentially, I explore how watching my older sister succumb to alcoholism (she died in 2009 from complications with cirrhosis) informed the risky choices I made throughout my 20s in life and love.
How do you feel about publishing something so personal?
It’s definitely not easy, and yet it’s the story I have to tell and I believe in sharing the human experience. I feel vulnerable, but there’s value in sharing. All of my writing involves a personal aspect and that makes it special. You can’t care what people will think or you won’t be honest.
What do you hope that readers take away from the book?
I don’t really know. I think that people bring their own experience to whatever they read so it’s hard to predict what they will take away from it. I hope that it resonates with them. It’s essentially a story about sisterhood and in spite of darkness, it really is beautiful. It’s a human story.
Be sure to check out her website at: http://www.melanieberliet.com.